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Poor eyesight cure could be in the fat

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A protein found in stem cells has the ability to reverse and prevent age-related, light-induced retinal damage, offering hope for those at risk of permanent vision loss.

Researchers from Gifu Pharmaceutical University in Japan have found that the protein progranulin, found in stem cells taken from fat tissue, reduced retinal damage in mice caused by light exposure, and reversed the damage caused by hydrogen peroxide and visible light.

Excessive light exposure causes photoreceptor degeneration, and previous studies have suggested that a long-term history of exposure to light may have some impact on the incidence of age-related macular degeneration.

Lead researcher Dr Hideaki Hara said that progranulin, found in adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs), may play a pivotal role in protecting eyes against light-induced damage.

Five days after receiving injections of ASCs, mice who had retinal damage were tested for photoreceptor degeneration and retinal dysfunction. The researchers found that the retinal damage had started to repair.

“Progranulin was identified as a major secreted protein of ASCs, which showed protective effects against retinal damage in culture and in animal tests using mice,” Dr Hara said. “As such, it may be a potential target for the treatment of degenerative disease of the retina such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

“The ASCs reduced photoreceptor degeneration without engraftment, which is concordant with the results of previous studies using bone marrow stem cells.”

“Recent studies have demonstrated that bone marrow-derived stem cells protect against central nervous system degeneration with limited results,” Dr Hara said. “Just like the bone marrow stem cells, ASCs also self-renew, and have the ability to change or differentiate as they grow. But since they come from fat, they can be obtained more easily under local anaesthesia and in large quantities.”

The researchers hope that understanding the pivotal role progranulin may play in protecting against retinal light-induced damage will lead to new therapeutic approaches.

The study was published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Kirsty Waterford

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